[This is the text version of the book review from episode 13 of The Pageist podcast]
The book this episode is Paradigms of Power: Styles of Master/slave Relationships edited by Raven Kaldera. It’s a collection of essays written by people in a variety of styles of power exchanges. As a person who will be (hopefully) getting myself into one of these of my own at some point I was looking for inspiration and information.
I was not disappointed. A little overwhelmed at first, as there were quite a few ideas that spoke to me, but not disappointed. All of the essays were well-written and there was a wide array of styles presented. The authors and their various households represented an eclectic range of sexualities and gender expressions.
There was a section on the to-be-expected Leather style which contained one of the stand out essays (for me). ‘Everything is an Experiment: M/s from a Queer Leather Perspective’ by Sinclair Sexsmith. If you’re interested in how contracts are built or highly detailed contracts in general—this one will be a good one for you.
I wanted to read more of Sinclair’s writing and bopped on over to Amazon. The second book that came up was a collection of kinky lesbian erotica she’d edited. Yes, please. I was looking for non-fiction, but, I’m not going to complain.
There was an essay on 1950s style M/s, entitled ‘The Modern-Day 1950’s M/s Household’ by Mrs. Darling which explained the differences between 1950s style, Taken in Hand and Domestic Discipline, thusly:
“Taken in Hand” (TiH) has substantially less information available than Domestic Discipline. It refers to a similar household power structure as 1950’s M/s. Taken In Hand seems to have a few concepts that are universal: it is a monogamous, married couple who puts the male in the place of power. He in turn places his wife and the relationship as the priority, making decisions in her and the relationships best interest first. 1950’s M/s can be non-monogamous, and certainly can function with non-married partners. The Master may make choices in his own best interest at times, and doesn’t have to justify his ultimate decision making to his slave. In an M/s dynamic there is often an incorporation of S/M scenes, as well as protocols and rituals in the relationship, including the wearing of a slave collar of some fashion. 1950’s M/s may incorporate a more extreme or kinky sexual relationship, and may use discipline in an erotic way. None of these things are a part of a purely TiH relationship. Many TiH couples find the idea of BDSM either unfamiliar or extreme.
Domestic Discipline (DD)—or sometimes Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD)—appears to incorporate the S/M side of the M/s dynamic at first glance, but the differences become clear upon inspection. Again, the man is seated as the head of the household and main decision maker, with the woman as the submissive partner. There is often, but not always, a calling to this lifestyle from the Christian belief that the man is intended to lead the family based on biblical writings.
Domestic Discipline is the act of the HoH disciplining his wife for misbehavior, most frequently through spanking (you can easily find pages and pages of information regarding the “proper” way to spank in a DD marriage) and also through activities like “corner time”. There are two types of spankings involved. One is a spanking for infractions, and the other is “maintenance spanking”, which is given in specific intervals to remind a woman of her place in the home. It is also suggested that the husband positively reinforce the wife for good behavior.
The difference in DD and a 1950’s M/s household is that DD and CDD practitioners vehemently deny there being any erotic nature to the discipline. DD is corporal punishment within a marriage. Domestic discipliners insist they are not in any way interested in BDSM, and that it is only for disciplinary measures.
Yes. And I’m sure no one ever enjoys it in any way.
Mrs. Darling later says this:
Just because others may not understand or agree with your lifestyle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what feels right or natural. It is no different from somebody having convictions regarding their chosen religion or their right to have a career and family. You may run into naysayers, but at the end of the day you need to look into the mirror and like who you see.
I like Mrs Darling. She’s a smart lady.
Then there were two essays each in the Victorians* and the Nobility/fealty sections.
In the Ancient Echoes section, there were two pieces, as well—one from the point of view of a Roman Slave-Advisor and the other was written by both members of an Owner/property couple.
It’s possible I enjoyed those so much because I’m interested in ancient Greek and Roman history, but the Romans viewed their slaves very differently than we do when we hear the word now.
This is from ‘Ancient Models, Modern Integrity’ by Sir Raven and slave jade.
Sir Raven said:
Slaves were considered to be human beings who happened to be slaves, not lesser creatures, and several conditions existed for slaves to be manumitted (freed) at the behest of the master. One not uncommon reason to manumit a female slave was to marry her, giving her full status as a Roman citizen. It was not unheard of for a master to have a romantic, personal, and intimate relationship with a slave. There was also nothing unusual about tasking a competent slave to manage your property, including other slaves. In Roman society, unlike the slavery of the American South, the condition of slavery was often transitory. Children of manumitted slaves were automatically full Roman citizens, and slaves could be highly educated and sought after for their abilities.
I thought that would be useful for anyone struggling with the terms Master or slave due to the connotations in the current culture. That piece had an entirely different take on it.
The next section was Eternal Childhood. The writings were about a Daddy/girl oriented M/s and another was on gay male Daddies.
Then we were on to so hardcore hierarchy—the section titled Generals, Captains and CEOs. The first essay was ‘Captain of Our Ship’ by Carolyn. They had two archetypes in their relationship. The first was her as captain and her submissive—who’s male—as first mate. The relationship is the ship. So they’re both running the ship, but he assists her. Eh, I’ll let her explain…
The primary “style” or model we use is a naval one. I see myself as the ship’s captain. Our relationship is the ship. This is really key to me because I consider my household to consist of myself, my husband and our relationship as a discrete third party, so the ship analogy works well for me. As captain, I am responsible for both the ship and the crew. Responsibility is a large component in our dynamic. I am not a “master gets what he wants” type of person. I am a “master is in charge and therefore responsible for stuff” type of person. I’m responsible for getting our little ship to our destination—to our life goals, whatever they may be. Being captain includes clearly identifying and defining the goals; ensuring they are viable; plotting the course to get us to the goals; and implementing the course by propelling and steering the ship in the right direction.
Then she says:
My husband is the first mate. His job is to carry out my orders, but he’s not a lowly person around here. He’s second in command to me, and when I’m not around (which is very rarely) he’s expected to run things as I would, not as he would.
Their second archetype is trophy spouse. They married when she was 50 and he was 33. She doesn’t require service—they hire people for that—and he’s handsome and fit—so he’s a trophy.
The second essay in this section was one of my favorites. Not so much for the type of power exchange, which didn’t speak to me, but for some of the concepts it introduced. It’s called ‘The CEO/COO Model of M/s Structure’ by Dr Bob Rubel. Dan and dawn of Erotic Awakening interviewed him at one point and he had some thought-provoking ways of looking at the scene. Both externally and internally.
At the start of his essay he says:
It can be hard to explain your M/s structure to others. It can even be hard to settle into your own M/s structure due to the cultural load on words such as Master and slave or Owner and property. The world of authority-imbalanced relationships is filled with subtlety: subtlety of behavior and subtlety of meaning. In this subtle world, some seriously thoughtful people get bogged down as they try to explain the way their relationship works, leaving egalitarian folks—and even some other M/s couples—shaking their heads and saying, “Well, if it works for you, great”.
This reminds me of Abyss from Perverted Podcast saying ‘That’s their dynamic!’ when you just don’t get something two people do.
This next part was one of those bits I had to read twice and then just sit there because it blew my mind with it’s obviousness and also practicality. Hold on to your hair.
Eventually, I concluded that we in the BDSM world are confusing behavior characteristics with role characteristics. We’re confusing assertiveness personality traits of dominance or submission with leader/follower terms such as “Master” and “slave”.
Assertiveness behavior scale: Dominance and submission represent behavioral preferences that are part of one’s personality. Not only do these characteristics exist on a sliding scale for each person on earth, but they are situational/contextual.
Leader/follower role scale: One’s success as a leader is a function of at least two things—how well one can understand the world through the eyes of another, and how wise and accurate one is in guiding others with insight and compassion.
Success as a follower depends—at least in part—on choosing a leader whom you believe is better able to make key life decisions than you can, and upon whether or not one has the skill and wisdom to get out of one’s own way and accept the leader’s guidance. Again, this is situational/contextual: You may be a great leader when directing person “A” and also a marvelous follower when reporting to person “B”. “
Yes! Thank you! You know, I go into these books to write a review and I come out with more books to read, because Dr Bob has several books of his own. My life is hard.
Another quote from this essay I want to put on a shirt.
This leads to my thesis: While D/s relationships are defined as a “dominant-acting D-type” paired with a “submissive-acting s-type”, an M/s relationship is much more defined by the Boss/Master’s qualities of leadership plus integrity—as those attributes relate to the Master’s ability to empathetically lead a subordinate. Where the subordinate’s personality falls on the dominance/submission sliding scale only concerns the Master to the extent that it affects the quality of the subordinate’s service and obedience. That’s how it happens that when you speak with experienced slaves—those who have been doing this for more than five years—that some of them will tell you that they’re dominant in all aspects of their lives except in their personal M/s relationship.
When I read this I felt my eyes go wide with comprehension. Any D-type I’m with is going to have to get this. It’s also why people think I’m dominant rather than submissive. It’s because I’m not your submissive.
My new favorite person goes on to say this:
So here’s the punch line: It is my observation that M/s is concerned with the integration of a slave’s service and obedience with their Master’s responsibility to provide wise guidance. It is my further contention that where one falls on the assertiveness scale is only an issue if the Master sees it as an issue.
Yes, I call her “Master”. Yes, I like it when she calls me “boy”. Yes, I have been known to become overly submissive when serving … and yes, I’ve also been known to become overly dominant when serving. But I’m no less responsible for ensuring that my Master’s wants and needs are met, wherever I happen to fall on the D/s personality spectrum on any particular day.
So now I have to read all of his books. Dang it.
After that was a section on Spiritual-based power exchange, with a couple of essays, then a longish, but incredibly informative essay on Gorean Consensual Enslavement, about which I knew next to nothing. Now I know… more than I did. And I kinda feel bad for the people who try to live it seriously and ethically and are probably bombarded by those who don’t read the books and make the entire group look terrible.
The section following that was the first one that really… I wasn’t aware existed as a full-time power exchange style. It was entitled ‘Being a Thing’ and consisted of two essays.
The first was about human pets. It was called ‘Human Pets’ by Silje Wyn.
I’d heard of pets, obviously, but I thought that meant people in touch with their furrier side. It can mean that, but this essay was about the other kind.
If I can impart nothing else, then I hope to convince people to assume nothing when it comes to human pets. I will relate what I know to the best of my ability but nothing is set in stone. No single rule applies to every single human pet or human pet relationship. Human pets are self-defining. Each and every single human pet has their own definition of what makes them a human pet and how they relate to their partners as a human pet.
When defining what a human pet is she says:
a human pet is a person kept for companionship or pleasure, usually treated in an affectionate and cherished manner.
There’s an entire bit about the differences between a human pet and a slave and I don’t want to keep you here for an hour, but there are differences. That essay was very interesting. And I learned I’m not a pet. But more power to anyone who is.
The other ‘being a thing’ essay was ‘Objectification’ by slave will and that one spoke to me in some ways. Sometimes you read something and it simply makes sense to you even before you can work out why. Like this:
I don’t know why, and I have certainly thought about it a lot, but being a thing brings me great peace. It relieves most of the stress that was present in my life before M/s. The closer I get to being a thing, the better I feel. There is an egoless-ness about it that is almost spiritual for me. Well, perhaps it is spiritual, but I don’t have the words to describe how.
He describes a bit of what being an object looks like, thusly:
She wants the end of a string held for some craft project. I stand there and hold it, for as long as she needs it held. She wants my leg in a different position as we sit on the couch, so she moves it as if it was a pillow or newspaper, and expects it to stay where it was put, or at least away from her pile of books. I bring her a drink while she is working on her laptop on the porch; she is not ready to take the drink until she has finished typing this paragraph, so I stand there with the drink until the work is done. My convenience is put aside; I’m here to be convenient to her, always.
There’s something about that that feels incredibly peaceful to me. Perhaps it’s the comfort inherent in knowing it’s all right to move another person’s body. Or knowing a person is content being of use to you. For the right person, I would be. Not to the full-on degree slave will is with his Mistress, but definitely to some degree.
The final section is Eclectic Examples, which consisted of two essays about power exchange relationships that were something of a hodge podge (but clearly worked for the participants and that’s what matters).
The first was ‘Building a Household Style’ by Master James and, like the title implies, it’s largely about how his household developed their style in the first place.
A very early quote:
I had gathered some suspicious dogma about what I should “always” do as a Dominant, but much of it seemed perilously close to “always behave like an asshole”
That didn’t appeal, so he set about putting together a style that included Edwardian manners (of which I’m quite fond), certain types of Military discipline and concepts that were useful, and other, all-round good life advice.
The last essay was by Raven Kaldera and his two boys, Joshua Tenpenny and Brandon Hardy. It’s called ‘Our Archetypal Array’. Their household also includes a type of English-etiquette, but this time it’s Renaissance Manservant. The role extended into the eighteenth century. I learned it covers a great deal of what I’m interested in.
The female equivalent was the “serving-gentlewoman”, “waiting-gentlewoman”, or “maid”, not to be confused with the later position of housemaid. Their jobs did include dressing their superior and looking after clothing, but they also encompassed being a traveling companion, carrying bags, taking messages, digging up dirt, making sure that their superior got fed, and many other tasks. Most importantly, their biggest job was to be “in waiting”—waiting for the next order, whatever that might be. They were a plucky, resourceful, respectful, and entertaining (if desired) sidekick who stuck to the side of their master or mistress, no matter where that road led.
Prior to this, I had been cobbling together a variety of positions… ‘a sort of secretary and personal assistant who also handles small household tasks and bathes and dresses her superior.’ But that was like when people used to carry a camera and cassette player and phone and calculator and watch when now they just have a phone.
It turned out I wanted to be a smartphone. And while I like the look and smell of leather, my style is elegant and more on the side of Victorian, so… dur. Thanks, Raven! I’ll be off to find resources and more information on that style of power exchange now. If you have any to recommend, please get in touch through the various social media options listed at the end of the show.
Raven and his boys also have several other archetypes including Superhero/Sidekick and Artist/Sculpture and a spiritual one I’ll mispronounce if I attempt it, so out of respect I’m going to refrain from even trying.
Even if you’re not looking to start you’re own power exchange relationship, Paradigms of Power was an enlightening read. And it’s definitely a good one for people in authority transfer relationships—if you’re looking for new ideas, for example, or are simply curious about how others structure their relationships I recommend this one.
*Many quotes and more information about these essays in this post.